Corn Planting is Ahead of Schedule After Early Delays


Via Flickr

Josie Taylor | June 8, 2022

Corn farmers have gone from at least two weeks behind schedule to three days ahead, according to a new U.S. Department of Agriculture report on Monday. After early delays, there has been a successful rush to plant. 

That report estimated that 98% of Iowa’s corn crop and 94% of soybeans have been planted, which compared to the five-year average is three days ahead for corn and six days ahead for soybeans.

A rush in planting means farmers’ concerns have expanded. They’re determining when to apply their first herbicides, checking for pests and contending with varying weather conditions since the timeline is different from past years. 

As of Thursday, nearly three-quarters of the state was sufficiently wet to avoid designations of abnormally dry or drought. About 9% of the state was in moderate or severe drought, focused near Sioux City.

In a weekly report about farmers’ progress, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig noted severe storms damaged young crops last week.

Longer-term climate predictions say it will get drier this summer, and it’s likely for drought conditions to develop across much of Iowa, with the exception of far eastern parts of the state, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Iowa May See Blackouts Summer 2022


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Josie Taylor | June 2, 2022

Iowans and other Midwestern residents could experience energy blackouts this summer if extreme heat and spiking demand coincide with insufficient power.

This warning was made by North American Electric Reliability Corp. (NERC), a Georgia-based regulatory authority, and it prompted state regulators to question utilities on how they would handle controlled outages. Iowa and 14 other states are at high risk of “energy emergencies during peak summer conditions,” NERC said.

Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) told utilities whose power grid it serves, including the majority of those in Iowa, that it expects summer demand to increase 1.7% over last summer. 

Iowa utility leaders told state regulators they anticipate having enough energy to meet consumer demand for electricity. If MISO calls for reducing energy use, they have plans in place to comply.

While the greatest risk of summer outages is in the Midwest, most of the western U.S. will be at moderate risk, NERC said. That forecast includes Southwest Power Pool, another grid operator that includes part of western Iowa.

Iowa River sees increased bacteria levels near Eldora


The Iowa River via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | June 1, 2022

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources is warning that there is an increased level of bacteria in the Iowa River near the north-central city of Eldora.

The DNR said the city has released hundreds of gallons of partially treated wastewater into the river as it works to repair a damaged pipe, according to Iowa Capital Dispatch. The leak was identified on May 31, when an Eldora resident noticed the ground between the river and the wastewater treatment plant was wetter than normal. As the leak in the pipe is being repaired, the Eldora wastewater was switched to another pipe that bypasses an ultraviolet disinfectant system. The system specifically targets and kills harmful bacteria from March to November because it’s when the river is used recreationally.

In recent years, documentation shows the treatment plant discharges between 500,000 and 700,000 gallons per day. The repair to the damaged pipe could take days and residents of Eldora are asked to avoid the area. The DNR is also advising Iowans to avoid the area downstream of Eldora’s 14th Avenue bridge until the pipe is fully repaired, as that’s where the discharge will enter the river.

New study finds U.S. Corn Belt unsuitable for growing corn by 2100


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Grace Smith | May 31, 2022

Environmental Research Letters published an Emory University study on May 16 that said the United States Corn Belt, states in the Midwest that mainly cultivate corn and soybean crops, will be unfitted to grow corn by 2100 because of climate change if current agricultural technology and practices continue to be utilized and relied on. 

To determine this outcome, Emily Burchfield, author of the study and assistant professor of Environmental Sciences at Emory, conducted a study with corn, wheat, soy, hay, and alfalfa. Burchfield formed and analyzed many series of models in different conditions to project the growth of crops. Burchfield used one model to test changes in planting with low, moderate, and high emission situations and found that corn, wheat, soy, and alfalfa will not be able to cultivate in the upper Midwest by 2100. 

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, corn makes up 92 million acres of land as of 2019, but, with climate change, there may be a shift in corn cultivation from the Midwest to the Eastern region. In a finding published by the Agricultural Water Management in March 2022, researchers said that on a ten-year average, rain fed crops are likely to decrease up to 40 bushels per acre, and irrigated yields may decline by 19 bushels per acre. Burchfield said that utilizing technology alone to grow crops and pushing away from laws of physics to understand natural processes will result in an “ecological collapse.” Burchfield also emphasized the importance of shifting away from relying on primary commodity crops like corn and soy.

Congress to discuss banning mining near Minnesota’s Boundary Waters


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | May 30, 2022

Members of Congress are divided over a recent proposal that could ban mining near the most popular wilderness area in the United States.

U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, D-MN, reintroduced a bill to permanently protect nearly 250,000 acres of the Superior National Forest, according to Iowa Capital Dispatch. The forest is near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, a 1.1 million acre watershed located in Duluth, Minnesota. The bill aims to ensure the water in the area remains clean. Mining can cause pollution from nickel, cobalt, copper, and other minerals.

Earlier this year, President Joe Biden blocked the federal approval of a new mine on the property. The decision overturned approval from former President Donald Trump’s administration. Trump’s decision had reversed an Obama administration decision. As McCollum’s proposal is being discussed in Congress, former U.S. Forest Service Chief Thomas Tidwell said the bill provides needed certainty to protect the waters. Tidwell served under the Obama administration. He said the bill would ensure acid mine drainage did not degrade the value of the Boundary Waters area.

The waters is visited frequently, with U.S. Rep. Alan Lowenthal, D-CA, saying it is the most-visited wilderness area in the country. The location drives the local economy, he said, providing thousands of jobs that could be at risk if mining is allowed in the area.

Nearly 50 percent of Britain’s butterfly species could disappear


Via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | May 27, 2022

Britain could see a drastic drop in its butterfly species soon.

24 out of 58 species in the country are at risk of going extinct according to a new report by Butterfly Conservation. The BBC reported there are five more species on the list than the last time data was compiled 11 years ago. Adonis Blue butterflies were recategorized this year to be more threatened. Swallowtails are also more at risk than in 2011. Wood Whites were moved to the endangered category, while groups attempt to save the British midland insects.

Large Heath butterflies are affected by climate change, according to the new report. As the northern area of the country becomes cooler and damper over time, butterflies in the area are more at risk of becoming endangered. The Large Heath joined the endangered list this week. The Scotch Argus can also be found in the northern portion of Britain and is now listed as vulnerable but not endangered.

Previous conservation work in Great Britain has, however, saved a few species. The Large Blue butterflies were declared extinct in the late 1970s, but are now being found in British grasslands. Colonies are thriving according to conservationists in the country. The Duke of Burgundy has now been found in southern Britain, where its caterpillars have more vegetation to eat.

Predictions show a busy hurricane, storm season in the Atlantic Ocean


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | May 25, 2022

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is predicting a higher number of hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean for the seventh year in a row.

In a forecast released Tuesday the NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad predicted between 14 and 20 storms, with six to 10 turning in to hurricanes with multiple running the risk of being Category 3 or higher. The forecast shows the severity of the storms will be similar to 2021, where four storms developed winds of higher than 110 mph and 21 were named.

Recently, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has noticed tropical storms are developing faster and more frequently. Iowa Capital Dispatch reported any storm, hurricane or not, could cause significant damage.

“As we saw from Superstorm Sandy, it doesn’t even have to be a hurricane to cause such devastation to communities,” FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell said.

FEMA is suggesting people across the country, not just coastal areas, prepare for emergency situations based on the forecasts from NOAA. Climate change is a part of why hurricane seasons are worsening and becoming more frequent. Criswell said FEMA is attempting to emphasize preparedness and mitigation as the climate alters and more severe weather events occur.

New study finding ocean life complicates plastic waste cleanup


Via Pexel.

Grace Smith | May 23, 2022

Rebecca Helm, an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina, hypothesized that gyres consolidate plastic and living organisms similarly. Gyres are global circular currents powered by wind that can act as a whirlpool, which creates garbage patches in the ocean. Helm published the study on April 28, finding her hypothesis accurate after following French swimmer Benoit Lecomte over the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Supporting evidence was also found through additional experiments in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch lies in the Pacific Ocean and is the world’s largest ocean garbage patch. Researchers that followed Lecomte through the patch found, in some parts of the garbage, there was almost the same number of neuston, or surface-dwelling organisms, and pieces of plastic in the patch. The finding demonstrated the accuracy of Helm’s original hypothesis. 

Although fascinating, Helm said her study could potentially complicate plastic cleanup measures as conservationists attempt to get rid of the 269,000 tons of plastic floating in the ocean. Today, plastic waste make up 80% of sea pollution and kills more than 100,000 marine mammals and a million seabirds every year. Plastic in the ocean harms all sea life including small fish as well as large whales because they mistake the waste for food or get tangled in pieces of plastic. Despite the home that neuston have found, Laurent Lebreton, an oceanographer with the Ocean Cleanup Foundation, told The New York Times that individuals around the world must take into account the large-scale and harmful effects of plastic in the ocean.

Neonicotinoid Insecticides in Drinking Water Sources


Elyse Gabor | May 20, 2022

Neonicotinoid Insecticides have been found in Iowa’s drinking water. This pesticide is the most used in the world as it is sprayed on many specialty and orchard crops. The chemical is often associated with harming bumblebees or honeybees.  

Neonicotinoid or Neonics for short sticks to insects, like aphids, and kills them. The insecticide is water-soluble, meaning it moves with the water rather than sticking to the soil. According to a study from the USGS, Neonics can be highly detected in Iowa streams.  

The USGS also conducted a study where they tested Iowa City’s and the University of Iowa’s drinking water to see if Neonics would be removed by conventional drinking water treatments. The results showed that conventional drinking water treatments do not remove the insecticide. However, Iowa City’s water treatment plant does a much better job of removing the chemicals as the plant uses GAC or granular activated carbon. GAC is found in common water filters, such as a Birta.  

Greg LaFevre, an assistant professor in environmental engineering and in the department of civil and environmental engineering at IHR at the University of Iowa, said, “One of the things that we want to do as the next step is understand if there’s ways that we could engineer different types of activated carbon that could help remove these even better.” 

To learn more about Neonicotinoids insecticides in drinking water sources, click here.

New Ethanol Law Passed in Iowa on Tuesday


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Josie Taylor | May 19, 2022

A new state law in Iowa would require most fuel stations to sell a gasoline blend with 15% ethanol. This will rapidly expand the fuel’s availability, but the law’s long-term effects might be more potent, according to the executive director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association. 

Gov. Kim Reynolds signed House File 2128, which will boost the use of corn-based ethanol to fuel the state’s vehicles, into law on Tuesday. Her action capped a protracted and hard-fought legislative initiative that began last year.

The new law is also expected to boost the sales of diesel blends that contain 20% biodiesel, which is often made with soybean oil.

Monte Shaw, the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association’s executive director, predicts that E15 will be available at 1,000 more stations by 2026, when the ethanol requirement goes into effect. That would more than quadruple the current total, according to state data.

First, the law also requires new fuel station infrastructure — the tanks, fuel lines and pumps — to be compatible with higher blends of ethanol, which can degrade certain plastics and rubbers. That will help facilitate future increases in blend requirements, perhaps with gasoline blends of 30% or 40% ethanol, Shaw said.There are current federal rules that prohibit the summer sales of certain E15 blends because federal regulators have considered them more likely to evaporate in warmer temperatures and pollute the air. The Biden administration lifted that restriction for this summer to help reduce fuel prices.